Another set of older photos; these are from June 28, 2014. I worked as a volunteer photographer for ACE, which encouraged me to stop and ask people to take their picture “for ACE”. Included in those photos are Joel Hodgsen (of Mystery Science Theater 3000), and professional body builder Lou Ferrigno, who played the Hulk in the 1980s. Both of them graciously allowed me to snap a photo without having to wait in line or pay a fee. Please do not use these photos without permission. Click on any photo to see it full size.
Archive for the ‘fiction’ Category
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on November 25, 2014
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on October 29, 2012
Orbiter, this is Lander.
Go ahead, Lander.
We have determined that the atmosphere is Earth compatible. We are preparing for egress.
Affirmative, Lander, we concur. Recommend full suits.
Roger that Orbiter. Full suits, with open helmets.
Roger that Roger, Lander. (chuckle). Any visible signs of life?
No, Orbiter, not yet. There seems to be a ground fog, obscuring most of the surface. We are on solid ground, and we will be exploring cautiously.
Roger that, Lander; step by step.
Egress now Orbiter. Surface is firm, under a thin layer of coppery dust.
Can you see anything yet, Lander?
No. Wait, yes, Orbiter, there appears to be something moving towards us in the fog.
Lander, what do you see?
Lander, come in. Lander?
Lander, what do you see? Is everything OK? Lander?
Lander, Lander, come in Lander. What’s your status?
Orbiter, AOK. We are OK.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on April 23, 2012
page 24A ☼☼☼Wednesday, April 23, 2042 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ ☺The Morning News☻
EDITORIALS / OPINION
It is a measure of visual acuity. It was a popular TV news program. It is also the year Mars was first touched by a human. It is the year the United States lost its technological edge, its pride in leadership and exploration.
By 2020, the United States’ economy had spent too many years fluctuating between extreme lows and mediocre progress. Attempts by every President and Congress to address the problem had done little. Military spending had increased, and the short-term effects had kept the economy going, but military spending does not have any positive long-term effects. It is not an investment in the future; it does not improve infrastructure, education, health care, technology or knowledge of our solar system.
There was a significant improvement during the Clinton administration, when both president and legislators cut government spending and waste, and concentrated on reducing the national debt. Of course, all of this effort was for nought, considering the money spent during the next administration on the invasion and occupation of two countries simultaneously. The cost in human lives was great, but the devastation wrought on the U.S. economy was greater.
Subsequent administrations tried once again, to tackle the ailing economy. Greater money than ever was authorized by Congress to jump start a recovery. The hemorrhaging loss of jobs stopped, but new jobs were slow to materialize. Taxes were cut again and again, but still the effects on the economy were slight. The national debt continued to grow. Politicians clamored for more war, for greater military spending, as if shaking our military might at the world was enough to save us. It wasn’t. Taxes were cut again. Few in the U.S. realized that we had already lost our way. A country that had grown great through exploration and innovation no longer had such goals. There was no vision to inspire us to grow, to innovate, to change. Fear of terrorism still dominated our lives, as we gave into the very purposes of terrorist attacks: to inspire fear, to focus almost exclusively on defensive and offensive capabilities, at great expense to ourselves.
Meanwhile, although the rest of the world was having similar problems with economic disasters, they had learned, from the United States, not to give in to despair and ennui. In the 1960s, in the United States, despite an economy-busting war in Vietnam, we had a space program dedicated to landing on and exploring the moon. Despite the costs of running that war, and investments made in social programs, we still found the time and money to land on the moon, to explore it, to participate in building Earth’s fist space station. Spin-offs from our space program gave us new technologies, and inspired ever greater innovation. We had pride in our country, in our goals, in our technology, and in our education system. All wanted our country as a whole to succeed, to grow, and to become the best.
In Australia, in Asia, and in Europe, people still believe in setting inspirational goals. One of them was the continued human exploration of space, the idea all but abandoned by the U.S. They worked tirelessly to send human beings into space, to move beyond our small lunar satellite to the planets. They mined near-Earth asteroids, and then they put mankind on Mars. To be accurate, the first footprints made on Mars were female, but humankind had reached another planet, and far sooner than near-sighted politicians and educators in the U.S. had envisioned. Cuts to the operating budgets of NASA crippled plans to land on Mars; the goal was pushed farther and farther back, until 2037 was the earliest possible date for a U.S. Mars attempt. Innovation was taken away from government, and left to private citizens. This was admirable in it’s reliance on capitalism and entrepreneurism, but investors were loath to invest the money necessary to reach near-Earth asteroids, Mars or the other planets in our solar system. Robots landed on Mars, the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and several asteroids, but the start-up money necessary to successfully mine, transfer, and process elements from the asteroids just wasn’t available to the few wealthy individuals who believed in the work.
Ferrying people into low Earth orbit did little to inspire the kind of creativity and wonder of the 1960’s space program. In fact, the role of the U.S. became little more than support for the efforts of other countries to grow their space programs. We needed their assistance just to maintain our own system of communication, defense, and navigation satellites. The information gleaned by our robotic exploration programs did much to advance Earth’s reach into space, but the U.S. reluctance to finance human exploration and establish base camps crippled our efforts to reap any benefits from our investments. The second space station went into operation without the participation of the United States. When China established their first moon base in 2020, we scoffed at the idea, claiming it was unimportant and insignificant. We knew that we would soon reach Mars. We just needed a little more time. Our economy wasn’t up for the task of massive spending on the establishment of bases in space. Unfortunately, despite their own economic woes, Australia, the European Union, and Japan followed suit by establishing bases on the moon, and set up processing facilities for the material coming from Chinese asteroids Ni and Hao.
Still, the U.S. goals were robotic exploration, and perhaps a 2037 Mars landing. But we no longer had the guts to compete in any space race. Our politicians, right and left, wanted to focus on growing our economy through artificial means, believing that all would fall into place as soon as we cut taxes far enough, as soon as our government no longer had the burden of investing in social programs, education, health care, or the worry of caring for the aged. And still, we invested heavily, not in innovation, infrastructure, or space, but in war. It has been argued that we had no choice but to support Israel in their devastating attack on Iran, but, after, all, we were the ones who had advocated, and indeed, proven (to ourselves) that preëmptive strikes were perfectly justified in the name of security. The staggering costs of supporting Israel in their jihad crippled us far worse than anything we’d ever done. Significantly, NASA’s budget was cut further, and private enterprise could not pick up the slack as our economy spiraled ever closer to ruin.
The joint Soviet/Asian/Australian/EU Mars venture electrified the world in 2030. Not only had they landed on Mars before the United States thought possible, but their joint base was now the center of technological innovation. The newest methods of sub-surface mining, extrapolated from their earlier work with asteroids, provided not only the water necessary to make life on Mars possible, but also those rare elements on Earth that were nearly depleted and too costly. Cheap rare-earths and precious metals flow outward from several asteroids as well as Mars now, providing the means for each of those countries to grow exponentially.
The United States will reach Mars one day. We’ve passed our 2037 goal now, and there is the promise that we will reach Mars by 2050, and begin the reap the benefits thereof. In the meantime, food riots continue. We lack the national will to spend money on space exploration when so many are hungry and homeless. Even if martial law is lifted soon, as promised, we may never see the grandeur of our country restored. We have fallen too far behind. We are safe and secure behind our borders for now, although few people around the world any longer seek to cross our borders legally or illegally. We lost our edge, our will, our purpose.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on May 20, 2008
Sean was in love – not, however, with Lenny, but with Lenny’s friends, especially Kathleen. He knew now that Lenny was gay, and that he wanted to share more than an apartment, yet he didn’t feel threatened by that. Life had suddenly become an adventure, a big party-cum-camping trip for Sean. Never having had friends who weren’t brothers or sisters or cousins, Sean was having the time of his life. There were parties and trips to the beach with Lenny’s college buddies, who seemed to accept Sean right away. The beach was suddenly a lot more fun. There were Frisbees to catch, and balls to bounce back and forth over nets and rock ‘n roll: funky, loud, and full of sexual rhythm. Sean loved it all.
There was Scott, who played the best Scrabble games Sean had ever seen. He missed the games he had played for so many years with his brother John. Scott, a grad student in economics, took the game seriously, plunking down seven-letter words several times a game, and teaching Sean how to go for the big scores.
Bill and Lucy were married, but they threw the best damn parties Sean had ever been to. Bill, a phone company engineer, played Alice’s Restaurant on his guitar, and everybody sang. Sean didn’t go home for Christmas that year, he went to Bill and Lucy’s, learned how to string popcorn and cranberries, and helped un-trim the tree of miniature bottles of Chianti, Seagrams-7, or Jack Daniels.
Jim was the strangest of the group. He was in the Air force, and had flown helicopters in Nam. The stories he told convinced Sean never to go there. Jim would show up at most parties with a supply of Jimi Hendricks’ albums – ‘Scuse me while I curse the sky – get as stoned as possible, and just sit in a corner playing air guitar. Sean wanted to know about Vietnam.
“You know how they interrogate prisoners?” Jim would start off with, “We would take suspected VC…”
“What’s a VC?”
“Vietcong. The communists, ya’ know? Well, the Lieutenant would have us take villagers up, and hang ’em out the door until they talked. You should have seen ’em squirm, and beg, and pee themselves.”
“And what if they didn’t talk?” Sean asked.
“Then he would kick ’em off anyway. Some of the guys just loved to watch the gooks go splat.”
“But what,” Sean asked, “if he or she weren’t VC? or if they didn’t know anything?”
“Then they got dropped anyway. The next guy we took up would usually talk.”
Jim said he’d never go back there again, and he wanted to get out, but “the Air Force still has my ass for a while.”
There was no escaping the war those days, and Sean knew he could still be drafted. He was going to have to decide what to do pretty damn soon.
But right now, what Sean really loved to do was go to Kathleen’s parties. She was brash and beautiful, with long brown hair flowing over a lean sensual body. Sean loved to watch her dance. She was a librarian. She wrote poetry. Her favorite musical groups were the Doors, and Simon and Garfunkel, so Sean bought their music and became a fan. She was a reader too, and he read the books she read. At a party one night, she exhaled a lungful of smoke from the joint passing around and told Sean: “Hey man, I’ve got a book you should read.” It was Atlas Shrugged, and he immediately became a fan of Ayn Rand: champion of absolute individual freedom. He visited Kathy, discussing individualism, and Capitalism, and the war in Vietnam, but she didn’t take Sean’s attentions very seriously. She considered him “still wet behind the ears,” and besides, she was in love with Brian. Brain, a teacher, was engaged to be married to Margaret. Kathy didn’t like that much, but she lived in a fantasy world where she was Scarlett O’Hara, and Brian was Ashley, who really loved her, not the woman he was marrying.
Sean was part of this family now.
“What’s wrong with you Sean? Don’t you know Kathy’s in love with Brian?” Lenny was fond of reminding Sean.
“Yeah, but I think she’s great.”
“Um, well, maybe because she’s a beautiful, long-legged, college-educated, beer-drinking poet.”
“You’re a hopeless case.”
“Maybe. Are you any better?”
“Oooh, you’re a nasty one, aren’t you?”
“You’re strange, Lenny.”
“I’m strange? And just who are you? You don’t even know what your future is, much less care.”
“I’m know I’m not going to Vietnam.”
“Why don’t you get out of it? Couldn’t you get a letter from your doctor or something?”
“Maybe. But I don’t think that’s the way to do it.”
“Then what is?”
“I don’t know. Revolution maybe.”
“Revolution? You shouldn’t talk that way, the walls have ears. You want to overthrow the government?”
“Why not? It sucks. The air’s polluted, rivers and lakes are dying – hell, the Patapsco River is dead – and the land is being sterilized by chemical fertilizers. Our food is not even safe to eat anymore.”
“That’s no reason to overthrow the government.”
“It’s not? You want more? Look at all the people dying in Vietnam. What about racism, and poverty? Our own government’s part of the problem.”
“Jesus Christ! You’re a nihilist!” Lenny’s face was turning red.
“What’s that?” Sean asked.
“What?” Lenny was pacing the room, but he turned to Sean and said: “You mean you haven’t read Nietzsche?”
“No, I haven’t. Who’s that? Somebody you read about in college? And I’m supposed to be all impressed?”
Lenny pointed a finger at Sean, “He’s one of the greatest philosophers who ever lived, and you never heard of him?” He started waving his hands in the air and shouting. “You don’t know anything about the world. You don’t know who runs things, or the power they have. You’re going to change the world, and you can’t even get laid.” He started pounding his fists on the table for emphasis. “You’re so incredibly naïve.”
“And you’re psychotic.”
Lenny reached over and grabbed Sean, and they rolled onto the floor and wrestled for a few minutes. They started laughing, but Sean suddenly realized that Lenny wasn’t just playing around. He was using the wrestling as an excuse to get his hands on Sean, and Sean pushed him off.
Sure I’m a virgin, Sean thought, but I’m not desperate. He was getting nervous living with Lenny. He wasn’t sure if he could trust him any more.
Sean finally met someone at a mixer. His job, in a research lab, was at a rich private university, Johns Hopkins University, and the mixer was for its freshman students and the students of an exclusive women’s college, Goucher. Sean took a bus out to the dance, which was at the women’s school. He was anxious to meet someone by now, and he was hoping that he could overcome his shyness. When he arrived, however, he saw that people had formed into cliques, and none of the women wanted to dance or talk with him. He was about to despair, feeling out-of-place and stupid amongst these rich-kid elites, when he noticed the girl playing the records. She kept changing the music, and urging people to dance. Sean watched her ponytail bobbing as she bounced around the room. She didn’t appear to be with anyone.
He forced his legs into action, and went over to her. “I like the music you’re playing,” was all he could think to say.
“Let’s dance,” she urged, smiling. Her name was Sue Plaskowitz, and she wore a Russian peasant blouse over faded blue jeans. “Call me Plask,” she said, “Everyone does.”
Sean was fascinated. She played great rock and roll, and she danced with a fervor that exited Sean as much as her erect nipples showing through her blouse. After awhile someone else took over as DJ, so he and Plask took a break for air. They walked along the grounds and Sean tried to think of something to say. Nice moon, he thought of saying, and, I like the way it shines on your face. But he didn’t say it. Too corny, he told himself.
Plask helped him out: “Hey, have you ever seen Hair?”
“No, I never did. I wanted to, but it’s kind of hard to get away to New York just to see a play.”
“Well, you know what? I’ve got the ‘pink’ album.”
“Everybody calls it the pink album. It’s the original cast recording.”
“Do you have it here?”
“No, but I have it in my room.”
“Well, let’s go listen to it.”
“Oh, no, we’re not allowed to take men to our rooms,” she whispered conspiratorially, “Why don’t we go to your place?”
Sean was surprised, more like shocked. He never would have thought to even ask her. He had, after all, come on a bus. “Sure,” he said, “But you know, I took the bus out here.”
“That’s OK, I have a car.”
Again, Sean was taken aback. She’s beautiful, sexy, and she has a car! I would have been happy if she’d just agreed to date. I hope Lenny stays out late like he usually does.
They put the record on as soon as they got to the apartment, and sat down on opposite ends of the couch.
“I like the songs,” Sean said, “They’re not the same as the one’s I’ve heard.”
“That’s because it’s the original cast, before it went on Broadway. The songs changed after that.”
“I never heard this one,” Sean began.
…a planet where the air is pure, the river water’s crystal bright…
“Doesn’t sound like this planet.”
…total beauty, total health. No government, no police, no wars, no crime, no hate.
“Sounds nice,” Sean said, “I wish it could be true.”
“Well, there’s all this pollution, racism, and this damn war the government keeps throwing money and bodies away on.”
“Will you be drafted, Sean?”
“Of corpse,” Sean said, but Plask didn’t laugh. “They’ve got me down as 1-A: grade A US-prime cannon fodder.”
“Can’t you get a deferment?”
“How? I only take a couple night classes, I can’t afford to go full-time. Even if I could, I hear the government’s going to start drafting students.”
“Will you go if they draft you?” Plask looked concerned. Sean felt like he was getting somewhere, she had moved a little closer.
“No way. I don’t think the government has the right to be fighting this war, or even drafting me.”
“Couldn’t you be a conscientious objector?”
“Nah, that’s only for religious people. You’ve got to be Quaker, or something like that. Seems like most religions support the war anyway, you know, ‘God is on our side’, and all that crap.”
“Sean, what will you do?”
“God, I don’t know.” Sean moved closer to Plask. She was leaning closer, and Sean’s arm was on the couch behind her. The record finished, and the stereo clicked off. Sean put his arm around her and pulled her close, but she pulled away and sat up.
“Uh, not so fast, Sean.”
“I’ll put another record on, OK?” Sean asked.
“I have to go soon.”
“This is a record I like a lot. Surrealistic Pillow.”
“Yeah. It’s great. I’m gonna turn the sound up.” He turned the lights way down and sat as close to Plask as he could. He put his arm around her, and leaned back. She relaxed as well, and the Airplane sang: Don’t you want Somebody to love?
“So what if they draft you?”
Sean put his head back. “Do you think I should go to Canada?”
“What choice would you have?”
“I could go to jail.”
“Why would you want to do that?”
“I wouldn’t, believe me. Did you hear about those priests?”
“Yeah. The ones that poured blood on draft files?”
“More than that. They made napalm from a recipe in a government handbook, and then they burned draft files with it. I liked that, it was real symbolic, you know, it’s the same stuff our troops are burning people with.”
“Well, it does seem like a better use for it.”
“Sure does. Anyway, I think if they could be prepared to go to jail for their beliefs, then so could I.”
“I hope they never call you to go,” Plask said, and she leaned against Sean. The album got softer and slower, as the Airplane played a love ballad.
Today, I feel like pleasing you, more than before.
Today, I know what I want to do, but I don’t know what for.
To be living for you, is all I want to do.
To be loving you, it’ll all be there when my dreams come true.
Sean brought his hand close to Plask’s face. Her hair seemed erotic between his fingers. He stroked her cheek and felt heat on his hand. Plask felt her face flush. Sean kissed her.
“Oh, hi!” Lenny said, as he flipped on the lights. He took in the scene on the couch and grinned. “Well, who’s this?” Plask pulled away and sat up as if she’d had an ice-cube down her blouse.
“This is, uh, Susan,” Sean said, “Sue, my roommate, Lenny.”
“Nice to meet you,” Plask said, “Sean, I really have to go now.” She grabbed her album and headed for the door.
“Wait. I’ll walk down with you. Let’s go this way.” They walked down the back stairs, which was really just the fire escape. “Private entrance,” Sean said, and, “Do you have to go right away?”
“Well, no, I suppose I could stay a few minutes.” They got in her white Dodge Valiant. Sean noticed a peace symbol in her rear window. He reached over and kissed her again. This time they didn’t stop until they had to breathe. Sean pulled Plask over onto his lap.
“Why do boys always want girls to sit on them?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Doesn’t it feel good?”
“Well, it’s alright.” She put her arms around him. They kissed again, and again. Sean closed his eyes, and felt his body warming. Plask’s body felt so good against him. He felt comforted and loved, and alive. But Plask did have to go home, and they kissed one more time, and once again and said good night. Sean got out of the car and came around to the driver’s side. He said good night and kissed Plask again.
As he climbed the stairs, Sean found the answer to Plask’s question. My pants are wet. Jesus Christ! I creamed in my jeans! Lenny was waiting for him in the kitchen.
“What happened, Sean? Did I scare cutie-pie away?”
“Jesus! What did you have to turn the lights on for?”
“Did I interrupt something, Sean? I’m so sorry.”
“You know you did, and you’re not.”
“Aw, that’s too bad, Sean. Did your little girl leave you all horny? I can take care of that.”
“Fuck you, asshole.”
“Ooh, I’d like that. I like assholes, don’t you? Does your little girl like it in the ass?”
“Shut up, damn you!” Sean shouted, and went to bed. It wasn’t the last time they would fight.
Sean and Plask continued to see each other. She invited him to have Thanksgiving dinner with her family, and drove him to her parent’s suburban home.
“How come you aren’t having dinner with your parents, Sean?”
“Shit. Why would I do that? I’m glad to be out of there.”
“I don’t understand that. I’d always want to be with my family on holidays. The only reason I moved in with my grandma is because it’s closer to school.”
Sean was impressed by dinner. He’d never had champagne before, and he was surprised that everyone drank, even Plask’s younger brother. As he expected, Plask’s father asked him about his job, and his studies.
“I’m interested in chemistry. It may take a while,” he told Mr. Plaskowitz, “but I intend to go to night school until I can afford to go full-time.”
“But you do intend to get your degree?”
“Of course,” Sean said, and something about the way Plask’s dad asked questions suddenly made him aware that he was being sized up as a potential son-in-law. I haven’t even known Plask that long. I wonder what she’s said about me?”
Plask drove Sean home after a couple helpings of pumpkin pie. She told her parents that they were going to see a play. They went to Sean’s apartment, to his room. He shut the door, and put a Bob Dylan/Johnny Cash record on:
Lay lady lay, lay across my big brass bed
Stay lady stay, stay with your man awhile
You can have your cake and eat it too
Why wait any longer for the one you love
When he’s standing in front of you.
They were sitting on the bed, and it didn’t take long for them to ease down into horizontal hold. They’d never had so much time alone before, and the champagne was helping to overcome their nervousness. Sean’s hands roamed over Plask’s supple body and she pressed herself closer to him. Their lips were squeezed together, and they tickled each other’s tongues, slowly probing and searching and experimenting with sensations.
“Hi guys! What’s happening?” It was Lenny, who knew exactly what was happening, since he’d been standing outside the door, and had thrown it open, pretending nonchalance. Plask stiffened in Sean’s arms and pulled away. Again! Sean thought. Lenny stood in the doorway. “Did you guys have a nice dinner?” he asked, and he kept on talking, as if everyone were just having a friendly little chat. Plask made her excuses and left. Sean was pissed.
“Why did you do that?”
“Do what? I was just trying to be polite. Didn’t you want me to talk to your honey?”
“Look, you stay the hell out of my life. Don’t you ever come into my room like that again.”
“No. This is my place. I found it, I paid the damage deposit, and I invited you here. I’ll come into this room anytime I want, in fact, I think I’ll come in now.” Lenny reached for Sean, and tried to put his arms around him. He was feeling horny now, after having eavesdropped on Sean and Plask. Sean pushed him off and punched him. Lenny put his arm up and Sean hit him again, and again, and even as Lenny backed off into his own room, Sean hit him, and was about to hit him again when he noticed that Lenny wasn’t even trying to defend himself. Lenny’s arms were over his face. He was whimpering, mumbling something that sounded like “mommy” to Sean, so he stopped and looked down at this huge bulk of a man huddled into a corner. He pitied him, and dropped his arms, gradually unclenching his fists.
“You just stay the hell away from me,” Sean yelled back at him as he turned away. He slammed the door to his room and locked it.
“I’m going for the police,” Lenny said a few minutes later, and he slammed the front door of the apartment on his way out. Some time later he came back in. He knocked on Sean’s open door.
“Sean. Sean. Hey, I’m sorry. You’re not mad at me, are you?”
Sean decided not to answer that one, so he asked: “So where’d you go to anyway?” Lenny looked at Sean and smiled.
“Oh, I just drove around. And I met somebody. Ooh, he was so nice. I like those young boys with their long blonde hair.”
“Where’d you find him?”
“You picked him up off the street?”
“Sure. I always do. We had a great time.”
“Where? In your car?”
“Why do you think I have such a big car? Eh, little one?”
“I thought your parents gave it to you?”
“Yeah, but they drove me down to the lot, and I got to pick out the one I liked.” Lenny turned and looked out the window, pointing out the car.
“Nice,” Sean said. The car was big, but hideous.
“Why didn’t your parents give you one, huh? Huh?”
“Because they have six other kids and hardly enough money as it is. That’s why.”
Lenny left the window, and walked over to Sean. “You need money? I’ve got money. I’ll give you the same I gave him, more, if you want.”
Sean stared. “You paid him?”
“You’re strange,” Sean said, “But to each his own, huh?”
I’m looking for another place, tomorrow, he thought.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on February 10, 2008
Armored troop carriers rolled down the streets over deep tread marks in the soft blacktop. Tanks had preceded them. There were troops already bivouaced in Druid Hill Park. It wasn’t a town in Czechoslovakia, or Poland, or Afghanistan. It was Crabtown, grave-site of Edgar Allen Poe, birthplace of the United States’ national anthem, and headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. It was Bal’more, Mar’lan’. It was the time we call 1968. Martin Luther King had just been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, and city officials had persuaded Governor Spiro Theodore Agnew to send in the National Guard. Houses and businesses had burned before, and fireman had been shot at before in the inner city, but troops occupying the city – this was new.
I thought Agnew was a good man, Mike was thinking while he rode the bus past his old high school, I never expected him to put Baltimore under martial law. The bus went east on North Avenue past Gay Street, where his parents had once lived, past boarded-up storefronts and burned-out buildings, where it connected to Belair Road, and a transfer took him to the hamburger place where he worked after school, near his parent’s home in the whiter northeast section.
I would’ve voted for him if I could’ve, he thought, seeing a billboard with the Governor’s bulldog face. Agnew had run against a man who wanted to keep black people out of white neighborhoods. Mike knew that wasn’t right. He was almost eighteen, but the voting age was twenty-one, and he didn’t like that. At least that racist Mahoney creep didn’t get elected. George P. was an Irish Catholic, the Democratic Party nominee for Governor in 1966. His campaign slogan was, “Your Home Is Your Castle; Protect It”. Mike went to school with blacks. Daniel had told Mike how hard it was for his parents to move into a white neighborhood. Mike had asked Daniel why so many blacks lived in slum neighborhoods if they could afford Cadillacs and Continentals.
“You don’t understand, Mike,” Daniel told him, “We’ve got no place to move to.”
“Can’t you just move? I mean, isn’t discrimination illegal?”
“Mike, Mike, Mike. What do you think happens when a colored family looks at a house? The real estate man smiles, and the owner smiles, but nobody can be forced to sell their house. Don’t you see how it works?
“Yeah, Coonskin, I think I see. I never knew that was going on.”
“Damn it, I told you never to call me that.”
“I was just kidding, Daniel. It’s just your name that gets me. I watch Daniel Boone on TV, and that’s what Mingo calls him all the time.”
“It’s not funny.”
“I guess not. Sorry. It is kind of stupid. So that guy running for governor wants to keep things the way they are, huh?”
“Now you’re getting it. He says people should be able to sell their home to whoever they want. He’s talking about white people not having to sell their homes to black people.”
When Mike got home he watched the news. Governor Agnew said the troops would keep order. There was a curfew, and all citizens were “strongly urged” to stay home. Arsonists and looters would be shot on sight. By the time the ’68 Baltimore riots died down, six people had been killed, about 5,300 arrested and more than 5,500 armed troops were on patrol throughout the city.
A year later, Mike graduated, and moved into the inner city. He had a new job, one that he had seen posted on a bulletin board outside the guidance counselor’s office. He’d been so glad to get away from the hamburger stand, with their miserly wages and short hours, that he’d have done almost anything. As it was, he’d been hired by an old Physics professor at the prestigious Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, to run some old research equipment that used x-rays to measure molecular spacing in crystals.
Mike couldn’t get over how lucky he was, and Dr. Pshaw treated him like a grandson. Eventually, however, Mike came to believe that Pshaw was not quite the kindly old man he seemed. Pshaw was always coming up with strange ideas, like the time he said, “Mike, I think I know what to do about juvenile delinquency,” which intrigued Mike.
“What’s that, Dr. Pshaw?”
“It’s like this, I don’t think that young people should be treated like hardened criminals, and put in prison to learn, well, the sort of stuff they learn there from the other inmates.”
“Sure, I agree with you there. But what’s the alternative?”
“Well, this is my idea. It may not be a good one, but I think it would work.”
“I think that all offenders should be made to wear a jacket with the name of their crime on it. That way they would be recognized easily, and, more importantly, they wouldn’t be able to commit the same crime again.”
“But, wouldn’t they just take their jackets off?”
“No, that’s the beauty of it. If they don’t wear their jackets, they have to go to jail, so they’ll wear them.
Mike thought about it for a long time, hoping that Pshaw could be right, that there could be such simple answers. Of course, once someone took the jacket off, who would know? However, he respected Pshaw. He was the only role model in his life since he’d left home. But, Pshaw finally blew the kindly-old-man image one day, when Mike asked him, out of curiosity, about the other applicants for his job.
“Well, Mike,” he explained, in a grandfatherly voice, “there were a few others, as I believe I told you. But they were colored, you know?”
Mike just stared at him.
“It’s not that I’m prejudiced,” Pshaw elaborated,” it’s just that I grew up in the countryside, and well, there just weren’t any of them around when I was growing up.”
Mike was still staring, not sure that he was really hearing this. Dr. Pshaw seemed to be so honest, and fair, and, after all, a “scientist.” It had never occurred to Mike that a seeker of knowledge and truth could be biased. Mike was a little naive.
Pshaw continued: “I don’t know what it is, but I’m just too uncomfortable around those people.”
That was the most racist thing I ever heard, Mike thought, but he didn’t say anything. Now, he felt the guilt of the privileged. I thought I’d gotten this job on my own merits. Now it’s ruined, he complained silently.
Mike was sure that he, of course, was not racist, and he continued in that belief for several years, until now, until he found himself playing pool in a part of town where he was the only white guy around. Doesn’t bother me, he told himself, but he felt uncomfortable when he saw the bartender come out of the back room. The bartender owned the place. He was white.
Figures, Mike thought, that’s what Daniel used to tell me. He said that the reason people burned their own houses and looted the downtown stores was that the whites owned everything there. “The Whites,” he remembered him saying, “charge the people outrageous prices for things, and then they go home to their white suburbs, and take the money out of the community. The worst slums are owned by white slumlords, who don’t bother to fix anything.” Mike believed him, but he didn’t know what he could do about it.
“Anyone want to play?” he asked, glancing around the room at several people who weren’t.
“Sure. I’ll play. Rotation alright with you?” asked a middle aged man. Mike nodded, “I get so tired of playing Eight Ball, it’s too damn easy, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, you’re right, it’s too easy,” Mike said, but he thought, Oh shit, so he added, “but I don’t want to play for money, I just like to play, you know?”
“Yeah, OK. We’ll just play for the table.”
The older man moved around to shoot, and two balls fell in. “Your shot,” he said.
“Why’s that?” Mike asked.
“Because they were out of order.”
Oh, we’re playing serious, huh? Mike thought. He didn’t do too bad on that first game, but he still lost, and kept losing. He put a quarter in the slot. Bang, the balls fell into the hole when Mike pulled the slot back. He was filling up the rack, one ball here, two ball here, three ball here, when, Bang, there was a sound like a truck backfiring outside the pool hall. Heads lifted up from the tables.
Mike filled the rest of the rack quickly. Bang. Someone yelled, “There’s a shooting!” and everybody ran out of the hall, dropping cue sticks as they went. Mike watched everyone scramble outside in the seconds it took him to move his own feet. He left an empty building.
He stopped when he saw the gun directly in front of him. Bang. It fired again, at the ground. Mike looked down. He saw a young black guy, well dressed, bleeding. Bang. The body jerked. Mike saw his chest moving spasmodically. “He’s still alive!” Mike shouted. He looked at the man doing the shooting. The shooter, another black man, looked about fifty years old, and his face was contorted with hate. The man looked at Mike, seeing him for the first time.
“He deserved it,” he shouted at Mike.
People die that deserve to live, Mike wanted to say. Can you bring them back? he wanted to ask this guy with a gun. But he just stood there, watching the man’s face. Maybe it was Mike’s look, maybe it was the surprise of seeing him standing there, but the man suddenly lowered his gun, lowered his eyes, and turned and walked away, slowly.
People gathered around the wounded man. Mike stood apart, separate, but unequal. In a few minutes an ambulance silently turned the corner, followed by another police vehicle. Paramedics lifted the man onto a stretcher while the police stood by. They’ll probably question me, Mike thought, and want witnesses. What do I say? He looked at the crowd, at all the black faces, conscious of his own white skin. He couldn’t read their expressions. It looked more like no expressions at all to Mike. This is their neighborhood, what right do I have to be here? he thought. Do I tell the police what I saw? or is this none of my business? But he knew that he would never have hesitated anywhere else. He felt that the people standing there in that large crowd were different. He felt that their thoughts were alien to his way of thinking. No one looked at him, or entered the large open space around him. The ambulance door closed. The cops were writing something, but no one had spoken.
Maybe they already know all about it, Mike thought. Maybe the guy is going to be alright. Mike waited for them to come over, still unsure what to say. The cops walked around the ambulance, got back in their car, and escorted it away. Mike went back into the pool hall. What should I have done? he wondered. What should I have said? Why couldn’t I talk to that guy with the gun?
The hall was silent, but then small groups of men started quiet conversations along the walls. A ball cracked! against another.
“Do you want to finish the game?” Mike asked his partner.
“Uh, yeah. Might as well.”
They started playing, Mike’s partner sinking ball after ball, until he couldn’t find a shot. The remaining balls were crowded together on one side of the table, and he had tapped the cue ball lightly, so it banked off the side, but it rolled softly into a corner pocket. Mike retrieved it, lined it up on the center of the crowded balls, and shot. The crowded balls scattered, but the ivory cue ball leaped off the dark green table like it’d been shot. The other man laughed, retrieved the ball, and finished the game.
“Might as well call it a night,” Mike said, “Thanks for the games.” On the corner, the North Avenue bus hissed to a stop in front of him. The black driver stared at him, silently, as he dropped his coins into the box. He walked down the empty bus to a rear seat.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on February 6, 2008
Charlie played with the gun, running his hands over it’s cool blue steel. He checked to see that it was loaded, and pointed it at Rosa’s fish tanks. Quite a mess that would make, he thought. He imagined the water pouring out through the holes, like blood pouring out of a body, splashing onto the floor, slowly seeping in. He pointed the gun at the sepia-toned picture of him and Rosa dressed in period clothes from the Civil War. He looked just like a bearded Union officer with the brass buttons on the uniform and the sword held across his body. Rosa was dressed in a long dark dress with lace on the ends of the sleeves, and a wide hat provided by the photo shop. She looked so happy. He put the gun barrel in his mouth. He put his finger on the trigger and slowly pulled the hammer back, but slowly released it, and brought his hand with the gun down to his lap. He emptied the gun of bullets, then put it back in his mouth and pulled the trigger – click! Click. Click-click-click! Click. He put the bullets back in. Again he put the gun to his mouth, and cocked it. It would only take a slight pressure to set it off now.
That night, three weeks ago, still played in his mind, in an endlessly repeating loop. He remembered how the evening started. He had walked into the bathroom. Rosa was standing at the sink putting on makeup.
“Mind if I take a leak?” he said.
“If you’re going to this party, aren’t you going to shower?”
“I’m planning to.”
“Well, now, after I pee.”
“We’ll be late.”
“No we won’t, I’ll be real quick. I know how important this party is to you.” Rosa turned, then turned back to Charlie and said, “Oh, maybe we shouldn’t go.”
“What? You been wanting to go to this party all week. Now I’m all fired up and ready to party. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” Rosa said quietly.
“You seem upset,” Charlie said. “Do you want to stay home?”
“I’m not upset. Just hurry up so we can go.”
“Sure. Rosa?” Charlie put his arm around Rosa, and tried to kiss her.
“Not now! I just put makeup on, and you smell.” She pushed him away.
“I’ll be ready in five minutes,” Charlie said, cheerfully. He felt rejected, but didn’t want to get Rosa any more upset. He thought she was being especially difficult lately. He did his best to get ready fast, although he couldn’t understand why there was such a hurry. It was just a dumb party. There’d be drinks and dancing, but the political animals would be out to convert them. He knew that they had been trying to get Rosa into their little socialist sect, and he and Rosa had been to a lot of their meetings. Even a Party can have a party, he had decided.
BEEP-BEEP. BEEP-BEEP. Rosa was leaning on the horn of her car, her ex-husband’s MG Midget. Charlie had to run out to the car.
“What’s the hurry? I was on my way.”
“I just wish you’d get ready ahead of time.”
“I was ready. It only took me a few minutes. Why the rush?” To himself, he fumed, Hell, you spent an hour and a half getting ready.
The rest of the drive was silent. Rosa pulled up to the curb on a strange block. Charlie decided to see if Rosa was still upset, so he said, “I’ve never been here. Whose house is this?” To his relief, Rosa seemed relaxed, “It’s Carol’s,” she answered, “You remember the blonde – with the Carpenters Union?”
“Yeah, I know the one.”
Inside, they were warmly welcomed. Too much! Charlie thought. These people are too friendly to be believed. They were soon separated by smiling people, people who never seemed to stop smiling, and not incidentally trying to discuss their own “correct” analyses of current events. Rosa and Charlie got some wine. People talked to them, dividing their attention different ways. Charlie noticed Rosa being dragged into a discussion in another room. Divide and conquer, that’s their plan, he thought. Charlie started in her direction when he was intercepted by Rebecca. She was one of the group’s better people, Charlie thought, friendly, but not always pushing the party line on him.
“Hey Charlie,” she said excitedly, “people are watching Star Trek in the next room. Wanna watch?” That’s a great idea. He’d just spent ten minutes in a useless conversation with Larry, who was insisting that Charlie define himself politically. Charlie had told him that he figured he was kind of a hippie redneck, just to shut him up. That somehow made Larry mad, and he said that he didn’t know how Rosa put up with that. What’s it to him? Charlie thought. Well, Rosa can see through these people. So he joined a small group around the TV, glad to be away from Larry. He watched a bit of the show, until he heard music start up in the other room. The music had people up and dancing, and several people asked Charlie to dance, before he had a chance to look for Rosa. After he’d danced to a couple of songs she walked into the room.
“Come on, let’s dance,” he said.
“No, I don’t feel like dancing,” Rosa said, coldly.
“Don’t feel like dancing? But this is a party, the music’s great. Hey, c’mon, let’s go for it.” Charlie put his hand in hers, and gently pulled, but was shocked to find that she was not only resisting him, but stiff, and pulling away.
“Rosa, what’s wrong?” Just then there were some new arrivals at the door. Rosa turned to him, said, “Alright, let’s dance,” but it was a futile effort. She was still stiff and her movements were jerky and uncoordinated. “Rosa, are you OK?” Charlie asked.
“Do you want to go home?”
On the way home Charlie tried to find out what was wrong, but Rosa just said that she was tired, that they could talk when they got home. As they walked in their door, Charlie asked, “Do you feel like talking now?”
“No. Yes. Oh, I don’t know, let’s go to bed.” They walked into the bedroom, but Rosa sat on the bed and started crying.
“Rosa, what is it?” Charlie put his arm around her, and they sat hugging each other awhile on the edge of the bed.
“Charlie, I’ve been seeing someone else.” Charlie didn’t say anything, he just held her tighter.
“Do you know who it is?” Charlie didn’t know what to say. He was thinking, Is this the same woman who told me that we were through if I ever touched another woman?
“Uh, is it Tom?” Tom had once been their roommate. He was a good friend of Rosa’s, and they talked with each other a lot.
“Tom?” she said, opening her eyes wide. “No!” she said, in an exasperated tone. “It’s Larry.”
Charlie almost laughed. Not Larry. He’s the most obnoxious, artificial bore I ever met.
“I don’t care,” he told her, “I love you.” But she started crying again. He hugged her tighter, and she continued to cry. Charlie felt numb. He wasn’t mad. He found it hard to think. He loved Rosa, and here she was crying. He wanted to comfort her. Surely, he wondered, if she’s crying, she must still love me? They sat there for minutes – five, ten, thirty – then wordlessly undressed and got under the covers.
Charlie didn’t know what to do. He loved Rosa, and didn’t want to have to think about anything else. He kissed her, and tried to make love. Rosa didn’t resist, but she was limp, unresponsive. Charlie kissed her mouth and neck. He kissed her cheeks, her forehead, the space between her eyes, and kissed the salty space below her eyes that had so recently been flooded with tears. He wondered if he would ever be able to touch her again. He kissed her some more, moving down her body, to her shoulders, and to her breasts. He paused to run his tongue briefly around her nipples. He kissed her stomach, her thighs, and in between. Rosa put her arms around him loosely.
After a few minutes, Charlie found that he could enter her easily. But she didn’t respond to his thrusts. She was passive, and quiet. Charlie kept trying to excite her.
He turned over and put Rosa on top. Charlie was feeling less passion now, but he wanted Rosa to know how much he wanted her. He wanted to remind her of the fun they’d always had in bed. He continued to kiss her, to touch her, to fuck her. Suddenly Rosa was crying, and Charlie stopped. He pulled her flat against his chest, and then lay silently while Rosa gently sobbed. Rosa Rosa, Rosa, was all Charlie thought. He loved her; always would.
In the morning, they were still curled together. Charlie lay awake for several minutes, digesting all the events of the previous evening. He reveled in Rosa’s warm nude body softly pressed against him. She moved slightly, pressing closer to him. But he had to know. He had to see what the new day might have brought.
“How are you, Rosa?” he ventured, and instantly regretted it, for she had still been asleep. She opened her eyes slowly, looked at Charlie, and rolled quickly out of his arms, and out of the bed.
She hurried into the bathroom. Charlie waited in the bed. When Rosa stepped out of the bathroom, he held an arm out to her, beckoning her to return to his side. She began hastily dressing.
“What are you going to do?” Charlie asked.
“I have things to do. I have to go.”
“Go where?” Charlie asked, dreading the answer.
“I don’t know. Charlie, I need time to think.”
“When will you be back?” Charlie asked.
“I won’t be back, Charlie. I have, I have to go.” It was Charlie’s turn to cry. Rosa came to him, and he began to sob, tears streaming from his eyes, along his nose, into his mouth and beard. Rosa held him while his body shook and heaved, and he cried. After he calmed down, she gently released herself from his arms.
“Do you have to go?” Charlie asked. Rosa looked away. “Where are you going?” he asked again.
“Probably to my sisters house. I need time to myself, time away from both of you.” Charlie straightened up, calmed himself. Maybe it’ll be OK, he thought. “I have to go grocery shopping,” he said to her. “Do you need anything from the store?”
“No,” she said, and hurried out the door. Charlie looked out at her, watched her as she started her car, and quickly drove out of the cul-de-sac, disappearing around the fire station on the corner. He heard her car’s engine accelerate down the street. She was gone.
Charlie had found Rosa’s thirty-eight snub-nose in the closet. She’d been gone for three weeks, and she no longer said she needed time to think. Five days ago, too anxious to wait any longer for her decision, he had called her from a phone booth. She was in love with Larry. She said, “We’ll always be friends, Charlie.” Right. He didn’t know what else to say; she’d made her decision. He pounded on the glass walls of the booth, hoping to break them. In his mind the booth shattered, he cut his wrists, and ended up in the hospital. Rosa would be sorry.
All of her things were still in the house, except for a few clothes. Charlie felt more lonely than he ever had, more so than before he’d met Rosa. When he met her two years ago she’d been married, but left her husband for Charlie. Charlie had been surprised. He liked Rosa, but was just passing through. He’d been traveling across country, enjoying his freedom to go anywhere, do anything. Meeting Rosa had changed his plans. At first, Charlie had simply found Rosa attractive. When he found that she was married he’d been disappointed. But Rosa offered him room at her house for a few days. He discarded the idea of sex with Rosa when he met her tall, blue eyed husband. Hans seemed an ideal husband, affectionate, intelligent, and open-minded. Hard to compete with that, Charlie thought. Although he worked, he didn’t seem to mind his wife’s role as director of a public interest group. Nor had he insisted on a common surname. Rosa had discarded his last name for her own. Hans even cooked dinner for them all the first night Charlie slept in their living room.
Rosa was bright and witty. She’d traveled a lot while she and her husband were in the Peace Corps together. She told Charlie about her experiences in Africa and her vacations in Europe. Since Charlie had never been out of the United States, he was fascinated. Here was the kind of woman he’d been hoping to meet, but she was married, so, Oh well, he thought. But he enjoyed talking with her. They discussed feminism and socialism, and Vietnam, and racism. They got high too. She had a stash of some really primo weed. One day, she invited Charlie to join her and her husband at a party. At the party, she danced with Charlie. He found himself really liking this woman, but he knew he had to leave soon. As they talked and laughed and danced, Charlie regretted that he’d probably never see her again.
Moving from one room to another, Charlie passed Rosa, stopped, and spontaneously kissed her. Rosa liked it. She pulled Charlie into the bathroom and shut the door. Charlie was pretty nervous about that, but Rosa was on fire, it seemed, until there was a knock on the door.
“Rosa! Are you in there?” boomed through the door. Rosa turned out the light in a panic. It didn’t help. Hans had been looking for her. Charlie turned the light back on and opened the door to an enraged Hans. Hans, however, said nothing, turned and walked away. Rosa ran after him. Charlie found another place to sleep that night. He was ashamed of himself, but expected that Hans and Rosa would patch things up. All we did was kiss, he thought. We just kissed.
In the morning, however, Rosa found Charlie and woke him up. “Rosa! What happened?” Charlie asked. “Oh, it’s OK. We talked about it. Don’t worry about it.” “Are you sure, Rosa? I never thought I’d see you again.” “Do you want to see me?” she asked. “Of course!” “Let’s go for a drive.” Rosa drove back to the house they’d partied at the night before. The house would be empty all day, and her friend had given her a key. Charlie was shocked, and nervous, but he overcame his misgivings when Rosa dropped her clothes. In fact, nothing existed then but him and Rosa.
Later, although glowing from his sexual encounter with Rosa, Charlie knew he still had to leave. Rosa was married, after all, and it was time to move on. Rosa, however, had other ideas. She said that she wanted to leave her husband. She said she had been trying to leave him for some time. “Now’s the time,” she told him. “But I’m leaving tomorrow,” Charlie reminded her. “Just stay two more weeks,” Rosa asked. When she looked at him, Charlie’s resolve melted. He could do that. He could stay two weeks, just to see what might come of this.
Rosa dropped Charlie off much later that day. They were saying good-bye, kissing each other just one more time. Rosa made Charlie promise not to say anything to her husband. “I want to tell him myself,” she insisted. As they kissed, just one more time, standing by her car on the curb, an old Dodge truck drove up, tires squealing as it jerked to a stop, crookedly, in front of them. Hans jumped out. “Are you fucking my wife?” he demanded of Charlie. Charlie was speechless. On the one hand he wanted to admit his guilt, bare his sin, and take his punishment. On the other hand, Rosa had insisted that he not tell Hans anything. He took the cowardly way out. He said, “Well, I had wanted to.” It was not admitting anything one way or the other. He didn’t want to just say “no”. What will he do if Rosa tells him? Charlie wondered. Maybe this way he’ll think I only tried to seduce her.
“What the hell does that mean?” Hans roared. Charlie was trying to think of what to say next when Rosa intervened. She grabbed Hans’s hand, and led him away. Rosa talked, Hans shouted. In the end, they drove away, Hans following the little MG in the old Dodge, but not before telling Charlie, “You stay the hell away from my wife! You hear me? Stay away from her, or I’ll kill you.”
Charlie wished he had now. He’d never felt this bad before. As he toyed with the gun, tasting the steel on his tongue, he still needed something to convince him to do it himself. Hans had left Rosa. She had come to Charlie, and Charlie couldn’t leave her. He found a job. He and Rosa rented a comfortable house. He’d felt such happiness with Rosa, such peace. On a trip home from Taos one day, Charlie told Rosa that he wanted to have children with her. He hadn’t wanted to have children before he met her. Rosa had smiled, and told him that she had said the same thing to a girlfriend just days before. She wanted a baby with Charlie. She’d never wanted to have children with Hans. They planned a long life together then, with a child or two. Charlie planned to build a house for them all. It was the happiest time Charlie had ever known.
Now it was over, and Charlie didn’t care about anything. He didn’t care about politics, or changing the world, or music, or sunsets. He closed the windows against the shrill noise of the birds. Rosa had taken her cats, and her dog, and Charlie was completely alone. The dog at least would have been some company. He had no family in town, except for Rosa’s family. It was Sunday, so Rosa and Larry were there now. His only close friends were out of town.
<– (Graffiti art. Photo by Paul Armstrong)
Charlie took the gun out of his mouth again. He walked out the back door to the back wall, and fired into the field behind the house. The noise, and the burst of light jolted Charlie’s senses. He couldn’t hear anything for a moment, but he saw a car on the street a few blocks away suddenly pull over and stop. Charlie looked at the car. He looked at the gun. He removed the spent shell and tossed it over the wall. He went back inside, afraid that someone had seen him, that they thought he was shooting at them, that they would call the police.
He felt foolish. Here he was worried about the police, when he was going to kill himself anyway. Not the police. My mom, my brothers and sisters. What will they think? They’ll miss me. This is more than just me. And Rosa, what will she think? Hah! She won’t care. Well, maybe she will, for a few days, or a few weeks. Maybe she’d even cry. But that’s all. Then she’ll forget me altogether. She might even laugh at me, be glad I’m gone, out of the way. She’ll be free to live her life with Larry and never think of me again. NO! Damn it. I’m not going to make their life that easy!
He put the gun back in the closet where Rosa had kept it. He was tired, and hungry. He hadn’t slept much in the past three weeks, and hadn’t eaten for the last five days. He forced himself to drink a glass of water, one swallow at a time. He made two pieces of toast. He ate one. He went to sleep.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on January 29, 2008
Cimarrón obstensibly takes its name from the wild snow-fed river which begins there, in northeastern New Mexico, and flows 698 obstinate miles to the Arkansas River in Oklahoma, but cimarrón is also a Spanish word meaning wild, or willful. It describes an unbroken animal or a wild man, or wild woman (cimarróna). At one time it was applied to slaves who freed themselves (cimarrónes).
Charlie Morris saluted the first day of June, 1872 with a beer, although the sun had just recently risen over the nearby peaks. Joyce was still asleep upstairs. She and Charlie had been up late drinking, but he hadn’t been too tired to put Joyce to sleep with a smile. They had ridden down the Goodnight-Loving cattle trail from Raton to the St. James Hotel in Cimarrón three months ago. Joyce’s husband, Chunk Colbert, was a gambler, mean and vicious but seldom at home. Racing horses went well with his love of gambling, and his gun had often been used in anger. Which is why Charlie and Joyce had left town. They must have decided that a hundred miles was far enough away, or else passion simply overruled their common sense. Chunk found his wife missing when he returned one day, and he was able to find out where she had gone. On that same June morning that Charlie sat drinking a beer to clear his head, Chunk walked from the bright sunlight into the saloon in the St. James. When his eyes adjusted to the dimness, he saw Charlie Morris.
“Morris,” he said, in a voice that could stop a wild horse, “you got something that belongs to me.”
“What could that be?” Charlie asked, spilling beer on his fine grey vest.
“My wife!” Chunk said, and shot Charlie dead.
This was two years after Lucian Bonaparte Maxwell, son of an Irish emigrant from Dublin, sold most of his holdings in the largest individually owned piece of land in the United States, of which Cimarrón is a part, to three Englishman. The Maxwell Land Grant was originally obtained as a Mexican Land Grant by Charles Beaubien and Guadalupe Miranda, for assisting the Mexican government’s attempt to exterminate the Indians in its “Northern Province.” Maxwell married Beaubien’s thirteen-year-old daughter. Almost two million acres that had been stolen from the Ute, Apache, and Comanche eventually ended up in Maxwell’s hands.
In all its sordid history of gunfights, murder, and land wars, and after the railroads had come and gone, and the gold rushes were over, Cimarrón endured. The gold and coal are gone, although the timber industry and the Philmont Scout Ranch breathe life into the area. People still struggle to survive, and some still dream of the old days of greed and wealth.
In 1977 a new schemer came to Cimarrón. Bill Dufess came with a luxurious double-wide, and a lot of spending money. He was soft-spoken, and, as representative of a new industry coming to town, he came, he said, “to stay.”
Alicia, as mayor pro tem, ran the town while the mayor was busy logging in the mountains. The rest of the time she ran her beauty shop, cutting and perming and dyeing. She worried about paying off the trailer she lived and worked in. As she teased Margarita’s hair, she thought about how tired she was. It was demanding running the shop on her own, but at least she could support herself and her kids. She hadn’t just rolled over and died, or gone on welfare when her husband ran off with with that Albuquerque woman. She had borrowed some money and started her own business. She stopped what she was doing for a moment to clean her glasses, and brush sweaty hair out of her face.
“Margarita, are you going to the matanza at that Dufess fellow’s place?”
“I haven’t decided, but I hear there’s a lot of free beer.”
“Oh, and everyone’s invited, everyone around here.”
“That’s about a thousand people! Does he really have enough food for everyone?”
“Well, his company does seem to have a lot of money. That new double wide trailer of his sure cost a lot of money.”
“What about that dump his company wants to put in, Alicia? Do you think it’s a good idea?”
“I don’t know. Mayor Burns said he thought it was a good idea before he left for the timber harvest, but I’m not sure this guy Dufess is on the up-and-up.
“I hear there won’t be any smell, or anything. It’s not like a regular depósito.”
“That’s because it’s for residuos nucleares.”
“Oh my! You don’t think it will blow up?”
“Margarita! Really! Just because the hands on your old watch glow in the dark doesn’t mean they’re going to blow up, does it?
“Well, I suppose not, but what has that…”
“The hands glow because they’re radioactivo.”
“Oh. Then I suppose it’ll be alright.”
“Maybe. There. All done. Take a look.”
“Oh, eso es bonita, Alicia. It’s just beautiful.”
“Thanks. I try my best.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Alicia. Are you sure you don’t mind waiting for your money?”
“I’m sure. Go on. I’ve still got to close up.”
Alicia closed out the register and put the money in the bank bag. “I’d better not forget to take this tomorrow,” she reminded herself, “I don’t want that trailer payment to bounce.” She swept the floor and took the trash out to the garbage. “I wonder,” she thought, “what radioactive garbage looks like?”
Alicia had promised her kids that she’d take them to Santa Fe to see the Star Trek movie. She was more than a little curious herself, so she closed the shop early one slow afternoon. She’d seen some of the T.V. shows back in the sixties.
“And they’re just making a movie now?” her son had asked.
“Es verdad, mi jito. From before you were born to now, it’s been a long time, no?”
“It’s my whole lifetime. Can we have popcorn?”
“Sure you can, Roberto. Now, go and get your sister for me. We have to get going.”
“Roberto! If I wanted you to shout, I’d have done it myself. Now go and get her. Vamanos! We don’t want to be late.”
They drove in relative silence. Alicia had insisted that her kids bring along something to read, and they had contained their excitement fairly well, even though they didn’t get out of Cimarrón very often. The twisting, potholed road between there and Santa Fe distracted her attention from the red sun-burnt cliffs that poked into a blue porcelain sky.
As they neared the theater, Alicia could see people lined up all the way around the corner.
“Oh, no, kids, there’s a long line. Maybe we should have waited until it came to Taos.”
“That’s OK, Mom, we’ll get out and get the tickets. You go ahead and park the car. We’ll wait for you,” Roberto promised.
That kid, he’s something, Alicia thought as she walked back to the theater from a street three blocks away.
“Excuse me ma’am, would you sign our petition?” asked a balding man in torn blue jeans. He had a red bandanna tied in a tight ring around what was left of his long hair.
“One of those Taos hippies,” Alicia thought as he pushed a clipboard toward her. “I’m sorry, I don’t really have time now.”
“But it’s about nuclear waste, ma’am. Do you want them to bury nuclear waste in New Mexico? Do you want your kids to be exposed to radiation?”
“What? Where? Do you mean Cimarrón?”
“Uh, no ma’am. I’m talking about down in Carlsbad. The government plans to ship radioactive waste from all over the country, and the world, into New Mexico, and bury it in Carlsbad.”
“Listen, I really have to run. Is there a number I could call to find out more about this?”
“I think there’s a number on the petition. I don’t have any information myself, I’m just taking the petition around. Here, you can have one. There. There’s the number.”
The following week, Alicia called the number. It wasn’t a local number, it was in Albuquerque. “What the hell,” she decided, “maybe they have some good information.”
“STOP. This is Colin speaking.”
“Stop? Stop what?
“Stop the dump, that’s what. No, really it stands for Stop Threatening Our Planet. Could I help you?”
“Yes. Can you send me some information about nuclear waste?”
“Of course. Do you mean general information, or something technical?”
“Well, I suppose I need general information. There’s a company that’s planning to put a waste dump here and I need to know more about it. People have been coming into my beauty shop and asking me questions, and I don’t have the answers.”
“Are you calling from Carlsbad?”
“Oh, no. This is Alicia Seria, from Cimarrón. I’m the Mayor pro tem here.”
“The Mayor! Alicia, I’ll be glad to send you any information you need. Would you tell me more about this waste dump? This is the first I’ve heard of it.”
“Oh, good. I was afraid you were only concerned about Carlsbad.”
“No, not at all. We really don’t want radioactive waste traveling on New Mexico highways, or buried here.”
“From what I’ve seen of the roads around here, it wouldn’t be a good idea. Oh, by the way, I’m just the temporary mayor.”
Colin got all the information he could from Alicia. As soon as he hung up, he was back on the phone to alert the membership about this new problem. The next potluck meeting of STOP took place four days later. Charlie, one of the three coordinators, brushed bread crumbs out of his bushy red beard and called the meeting to order.
“Attention people. Most of us are finished eating, and we have some business to get to. Bring your drinks and deserts. Colin, you’re first on the agenda.” Nine people formed a ragged circle on the floor.
“Uh, well, as some of you know, we got a phone call from the mayor of Cimarrón. Apparently, a Texas company called Nuclear Futures wants to build a waste dump there.”
“Colin, I thought all the waste was supposed to go in one place?” asked Edith, the gray-headed professor’s wife.
“This is a private company, Edith. The Carlsbad site is a federal project. Nuclear Futures is planning a commercial dump. From what I, uh, understand, waste producers will pay them to accept their waste. And, listen to this, the waste will be in 55-gallon drums piled in shallow trenches and just covered over with dirt.”
“Wow. That’s pretty heavy,” said Ken, the cement factory unionist. “It sounds like another Love Canal in the making. What do the people in Cimarrón say about that?”
“Well, uh, the mayor, I mean, the acting mayor, told me that most people don’t know anything about the possible dangers. There’s this guy, Bill Dufess, who works for United Futures, who’s moved to Cimarrón. He says he’s planning to live there permanently, and he threw this big matanza last Saturday with all the food and beer people could want.”
“What does the Mayor say? Hey! what’s her name?” Charlie asked.
“What does she want?”
“She’s afraid that this Dufess character is snowing people with all that beer and barbecue. She’s worried about the dump and she thinks people are afraid to question it.”
“What can we do?” Charlie asked.
“She’s asked us if some people could come up there with some information, and maybe debate this guy. I’ve already talked to George at the Albuquerque Resource Center and they have some movies we could take up there, and George wants to debate this Bill Dufess guy.”
“Won’t there be hearings?” asked the feminist-anarchist.
“No, none at all, Paula. George told me that New Mexico is the only state in the nation without some form of permitting and licensing for, uh, landfills.”
“I want to go up and meet Alicia and Dufess. Does anyone want to go with me?” Charlie asked. Three hands shot up.
“OK, let’s get together after the meeting and make arrangements. We’ll be able to report on what’s happening up there by the next meeting.”
“Alicia, can you give me a trim? I want to get rid of all these split ends.”
“Be with you in just in second. What, Ana?”
“Mom, can I go over to Monica’s?”
“Did you finish your homework?”
“I finished it at school.”
“OK, jita, but don’t forget to be home in time for dinner.”
“I won’t. Bye, mom.”
“Now, let’s get to those split ends, Effie.”
“What do you think, Alicia? Do you think I should shorten it like yours?”
“Oh, no. Your hair’s much too pretty this way. I’ll just give you a trim, and a shampoo, and you’ll see, you’ll like it.”
“Thanks, Alicia. I trust you.”
“How’s your boy doing, Effie?”
“Oh, real good. I didn’t think he was ever going to pass the fifth grade, but he’s much better now. You know, they have to learn so much these days. Sometimes I don’t know how they manage at all.”
“Yeah, my Roberto knows more than I do, I think. Sometimes I look at his homework, and I can’t make any sense of it. By the way, Effie, what do you think of this waste dump Dufess’s company wants to put in here?”
“Well, Alicia, I hear you’re against it?”
“Oh, not really, not yet. I’m just not real sure. I’m afraid of what could happen if one of those trucks carrying the waste were to turn over. Remember when that propane truck crashed on the old highway? We almost had to evacuate the town then.
“What can you do, Alicia? If they want some old dump here, I don’t think there’s much we could do about it anyway.”
“Turn your head a little, Effie. And don’t you be so sure about that.”
“What are you up to, Alicia?”
“Well, Tony and Eloy were talking about having a big town meeting. I thought I might invite those people from Albuquerque to come up and debate Dufess publicly, and maybe show a movie or something like that.”
“People sure are talking about that dump since you started asking questions.”
“I just got so tired of hearing only one side of it. All those slide shows of Dufess’s. And all that beer and barbecue of his makes me think he’s trying to buy us, and I kind of wonder why. Come on over to the sink, so I can rinse your hair.”
“Can we hear a report from the people who went to Cimarrón? Colin?”
“Oh, I talk too much all the time. Why don’t we let Charlie tell you about it?
“OK, sure. We met at that guy Bill Dufess’s trailer. He had this real slick slide show about the dump, about how safe it would be, and how people would benefit. It was real convincing.”
“How many people were there?”
“Not very many, Paula. Most of the townspeople had seen the slides already. But Alicia was there, and this one guy who’s all for it, and there were a couple of people who just watched, and didn’t say anything.”
“So what was accomplished?”
“Not much, but Alicia did say that some people are planning a town meeting, and we’re invited to come and present our information.”
“That’s great Charlie! You know, since New Mexico is hosting the Desert Alliance meeting next month, do you think it would be alright to have the meeting in Cimarrón? That way we could maybe combine our meeting with the town meeting. It would be a real good way for the people in Cimarrón to find out what’s happening in Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado. And I think the Alliance members would like to see Cimarrón.”
“Paula! That’s a great idea. What does everyone else think?”
Everyone thought it was a great idea, so Charlie asked his lover, Rosa, if she would go too. She said no, she didn’t want to go, and that she had things to do that weekend. Charlie didn’t like that. He and Rosa hadn’t done much together lately. She had her writing and he had his STOP meetings. They both held the same opinions of nuclear waste, but Rosa had her own ideas about what was important, and that was editing an anti-nuclear newsletter. Charlie felt that the petition drive that had been going on for the past few months was too important to abandon, so they had found themselves alone at separate meetings. Well, I’ll just have to go by myself then, he decided. Damn! This isn’t how I thought it would be when I moved here. I was going to start a family, and Rosa and I were going to make the world a better place for them. And she still doesn’t want kids yet. Can’t say I blame her, I don’t make much money fixing sidewalks and block walls at the University. Charlie didn’t have too much time to talk to Rosa, and convince her to go. He was spending nearly every night at the STOP office trying to coordinate things for the meeting in Cimarrón. He thought about Joyce, in Nevada. She was a lot of fun to talk with at that first Alliance meeting in Colorado. Too bad we only talked. I’d better write to her.
As busy as Alicia was, she arranged most of it. She convinced the town council to let the Desert Alliance use the community center. “Some of those anti-nuclear kids could even sleep there. And Tom and Sheryl have offered a couple rooms at their motel. I hope those people in Albuquerque bring their projector. I’ve been telling people that we’re going to have movies. That should get ’em here.” She knew that the out-of-towners would bring their own food, but she had still convinced Margarita, Effie, and a few others to bring a dish for the town meeting.
Outside Alicia’s trailer, it was snowing. “They’d better bring warm clothes,” she thought. “I’ll get John at the store to donate some coffee and tea. Oh! And I’d better remember some sugar and milk too. This is exciting! I’ve never done anything like this before, but I’ll bet we can stop these Nuclear Futures people.”
Two carloads of people, armed with a movie projector, maps, leaflets, and pamphlets, left Albuquerque on a clear sunny morning for battle in Cimarrón. The first car left before dawn. Charlie drove the second car, which gave him an excuse to sleep a couple hours more. He didn’t talk much on the long drive up North, he was thinking about Joyce. He knew she was coming, and Rosa had insisted on staying home. From Joyce’s reply to his letter, Charlie felt that the possibility of sharing a bed or a sleeping bag with her were pretty good. It would help make this weekend more interesting, he thought. There’s probably no way we can stop that Nuclear Futures company. Shit. Two years we’ve been fighting that waste project in Carlsbad, and we’re no closer to stopping it. All those damn hearings are such a damned waste of time. We’ve got twenty thousand signatures on petitions, and all the polls show that the majority in the state are against it, and still the feds won’t listen. The Governor said he would stop it when he was running for office, but now the federal boys have made it a dump for military waste. National Security, my ass.
As Charlie pulled onto I-25, to head north, Alicia was already open for business, hoping to finish early so that she would be available to greet people and get things set up. She had an early appointment with Ruth Mondragon, so she turned the heat up to warm the front room beauty parlor. She had fed the kids, and they were already watching Saturday morning T.V. in her bedroom. With a cup of coffee in her hand, she sat down by the phone to call people and remind them about tomorrow’s meeting. She had managed to get five calls done when Ruth arrived.
“Buenos dias, Alicia!”
“Well, good morning to you too, Ruth. Would you like a cup of coffee?”
“I sure would. It’s cold out there.”
As she was finishing Ruth’s perm, the phone rang.
“Morning Alicia. Cold enough for you?”
“Hi Cicero, what’s up? I hope we won’t be getting any snow today?”
“No, not as far as I’ve heard. Reason I called was to let you know that there’s some people parked outside my store. I think they’re the people you’re expecting.”
“Oh my goodness. Are they here so early? Thanks, Cicero. I’ll see you tonight. Bye.”
Ruth started to get up. “What’s the matter, Alicia? Is something wrong?”
“No, don’t get up. But could you do me a favor, Ruth? Would you take this key with you when you leave and open up the hall? And tell people I’ll be by soon, and that I’ll be bringing coffee?”
“Si, claro! I’m as much against this crazy dump as you are.”
“Thanks, Ruth. Well, let’s get you finished. I didn’t know you felt that way, Ruth. Didn’t I see you laughing with Dufess at his barbecue?”
“O Alicia, I’ve never been one to turn down free food. But I’ll tell you one thing, I sure was surprised to see where they intend to dig those trenches.”
“Here, let’s rinse you off. Why’s that, Ruth?”
“Why, that area floods. It’s been a while, but I remember a time about twenty years ago when two whole feet of topsoil washed off of there and it made a mess it took weeks to clean up.”
“Is that a fact?”
“It sure is. And that viejo of mine told me that his abuelo used to have a house over there years before that, but it got washed away.”
“No kidding? His grandfather lost his house there?”
Charlie turned his collar up against the cold damp of a Cimarrón morning as he got out of the car, and asked Colin: “Where are we supposed to go?”
“I don’t know, exactly. There’s some cars over there by that store. Pull up close, let’s see if we know anyone.”
A foggy window was rolled down.
“Hi Jim, you beat us here. What’s happening?”
“Well, I don’t know. I’ve been here about thirty or forty minutes. Got a cup of coffee from the store here.”
“Anyone come with you?”
“Yeah, there’s three more of us from Colorado here.”
Another car drove up.
“Hey, I just came from the hall where the meeting will be. Someone unlocked the door, and she said that Alicia is bringing some hot chocolate and coffee, and we should meet her there.”
Charle helped Alicia start the coffee and hot water on a table by the door of the church hall.
“How are things going, Alicia?”
“Real good. If the weather doesn’t get too bad, I think we’ll have a good crowd tomorrow. A lot of people have promised to come.”
“Is Dufess coming?”
“Oh, yes, he said he’ll be here. And he’s bringing a film of his own, just for balance.”
“It’s alright, that was the only way the town council would approve. They thought it was only fair, since there’s going to be a debate.”
“Well, that makes sense. I suppose it’ll work out. We’ve got the projector. I’ll be showing the movies. Anything I can do?”
“No, not a thing. You go ahead and join people.”
“Charlie took a cup of chocolate and walked into the large hall. Leaning against the stage was a familiar figure. Actually, the figure was not as familiar as the face. It’s Joyce! “Hi Joyce,” he called. She didn’t look the same. I know it’s been six months since I’ve seen her, but still, either she’s gotten a lot fatter, or she’s pregnant, he thought. He crossed the hall and hugged her, gently.
“Joyce, it’s nice to see you here.”
“It’s nice to see you too.”
“No, not just that. I mean, I was thinking about you all the way up here, hoping you’d be here.”
“You know, I was thinking about you too.”
“Well, yeah, ever since that time we went to that meeting in Coloado.”
“I remember. We stayed up half the night talking.”
Joyce looked away amoment, then said, “I got turned on that night.”
“Well,” Charlie said, searching for words.
“Well, yourself. I’d want to talk to you when we get a chance. I didn’t come all the way from Nevada just for this meeting, you know.”
“You look different.”
“Well, yeah. I’m pregnant.”
“No shit. That surprises me.”
“Yeah, it was a surprise to us too. We hadn’t planned it. Harry always said he didn’t want to have children, and I thought about an abortion, but now that I’m pregnant, he seems to like the idea.”
“Uh, oh, here comes Harry, he follows me everywhere. I don’t know when, but we’ll talk. Harry, this is my contact in the Desert Alliance that I’ve told you about.”
“Glad to meet you, Charlie. Joyce has told me a lot about you.”
Charlie shook Harry’s hand. He was very thin, but quite strong. Must be a vegetarian, he thought. “About me?” he asked.
“About STOP, mostly, and about Albuquerque. You send her a lot of information about what’s going on around here. It’s a lot more than we’ve been able to do about underground testing in Nevada.”
“Maybe you should think about moving here, Harry.”
“That’s not a bad idea, maybe we should.”
“Now why did I say that?” Charlie wondered.
Later, when everyone had arrived, Alicia announced that there were rooms at the Blue Sky Motel that were available for some people, but the rest would have to stay in the hall, itself. Charlie opted for the hall. He wanted to stay where the most people were, and he had brought his sleeping bag. After a day-long meeting with the Desert Alliance members, he had packed up his paperwork and gone to bed while the others were drinking at the bar. He didn’t feel very sociable, and besides, he didn’t drink.
As he was dressing the next morning, Joyce found him alone in the back room where he and a few others had slept.
“I guess I overslept.”
“I’ll say, everyone is already up. They’re having breakfast.”
“Where did you stay last night?”
“Harry and I stayed at the motel. Ooh, that bed felt sooo good.”
“It’s nice to see you.”
“I’m glad I found you. I didn’t know if we would ever be able to be alone.” Joyce moved closer to Charlie, looking at him, watching his eyes.
“Me either, ” Charlie said, and ran his hands through Joyce’s long hair. His hands felt hot.
“Hmmm, maybe we don’t really need to talk,” Joyce said, pushing her head against Charlie’s hand. He kissed her lips, and then her neck. Joyce put her arms around him, and pressed against him.
“Mmm,” Charlie said.
“You said it,” Joyce answered while she took off her coat.
Charlie ran his hands over her nipples and around her breasts.
“Whew! It’s getting hot,” Joyce said, as she took off her flannel shirt. Charlie responded by removing his shirt.
“Maybe we’d better not waste any time,” Joyce suggested, “We don’t know when someone might come in.”
“Are you sure it’s OK? Joyce? We won’t,” pointing to her stomach, “bother that?”
“Oh, no. The doctor told me I can have sex, but Harry hasn’t wanted to since I started to show.”
Charlie stripped off the rest off his clothes, and helped Joyce off with her pants.
“Just be gentle, Charlie.”
He was. Joyce moaned softly as her body warmed to Charlie’s touch, and Charlie felt fire play across his skin. A little milk came from Joyce’s nipples. He liked that. They slipped sideways through time in the realm of pleasure, until the last gentle spasms subsided and they lay peacefully embraced.
“Well, that was nice,” Joyce said, slowly and huskily, “but we seem to have made of mess of someone’s sleeping bag.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Charlie laughed, “It belonged to Rosa’s ex husband.”
“We’d better get dressed. Do you want to go for a walk?”
“Sure. Let’s get out of here.”
Half a block away, they ran right into Harry.
“There you are. I’ve been wondering what happened to you two.”
“Oh, we’ve been walking around, looking at the town, and we got to talking,” Joyce answered lightly, smiling.
“Well, I’m glad you two got a chance to talk. Do you want to head over to the motel?”
“You know the owners, Tom and Sheryl?”
“Well, their son just got in. He’s the editor of a Texas paper. He’d like to talk to a few of us so he can write a story.”
“All right! Let’s go.”
Alicia was worried about the meeting. She kept calling people to remind them, but the snow that had fallen the night before was making it difficult for people to travel the old roads in the community that surrounded the town. Finally there were about forty people, and they had polished off most of the food, so she introduced the speakers to everyone, and then they watched the films. Afterwards she had each person, George, from the Albuquerque Resource Center, and Bill Dufess, from Nuclear Futures, give a presentation. A few people left, but Alicia spoke to each of them before they did. George talked about the dangers of radiation leaching away from the dump, and Dufess spoke of the economic benefits that Cimarrón would derive from the increased truck traffic. He was trying to drive home a point about the safety of the project when Ruth Mondragon interrupted him.
“What about the flooding, Dufess?
“Yeah, what about that?” someone else interjected.
He looked confused. “I don’t understand, what flooding?”
“Every time the river overflows, that strip of land is under water.”
“This is the first I’d heard of it. The land is dry, and we searched the records and didn’t find any evidence of flooding.”
“How far back did you go?” Ruth wanted to know.
“We searched back twenty years.”
“Well, about twenty, maybe twenty-five years ago, we had one hell of flood here,” Ruth’s husband added. “And that wasn’t the first one, how do you know that won’t happen again?”
“Yeah,” Margarita spoke up, “how do we know that radioactive junk won’t come floating through town some day?”
Dufess smiled. “I’ll certainly look into it. But, you needn’t worry, the waste will certainly not leak out of there.”
“We’ve heard that before,” Joyce added.
“You’re all worried about nothing,” came a new voice. “I think this here dump’s gonna be good for business.” It was Mr. Lambe, from the diner. “Why, most people around here support this thing. There’s only a few crybabies against it.”
“You just say that because you stand to make a few bucks, Max,” Ruth told him.
“What, what’s wrong with that?” Lambe shouted out. “We could all use the money.”
“But what if it’s not safe?” Alicia asked.
“Yeah, ” someone shouted from the back. A chorus of “Yeahs” followed.
“Now listen, everyone,” Dufess broke in. I can guarantee you this is safe. Not only that, but I’ve spoken with Mr. Lambe, and other members of the business community here, and everyone agrees that this would be a good thing for Cimarrón financially.”
“Maybe it would,” Tom Hilton said, “but its not a good idea.” Tom had moved to Cimarrón in 1959, trying to resurrect the old hotel. “That’s where the old town was,” he said, “That’s Cimarrón’s history over there. The Maxwell mansion was there. The Yellow Front Saloon. The Cimarrón News and Press, where Clay Allison roped the press and dragged it into the river. Hell, Kit Carson hung out there. Billy the Kid was a friend of Maxwell’s son. Wyatt and Morgan Earp met Doc Holliday there. There’s a lot of history there. I don’t think we should turn it into a dump.”
Alicia said, “I think we ought to start a petition, and find out how many people really want that dump here.”
“You got it!” Ruth, on her feet, yelled out.
Everyone wanted to help Alicia draft a petition for Cimarrón. George offered his ideas, and other people wanted to use STOP’s petition.
“Why can’t we just say, ‘We don’t want a nuclear waste dump in Cimarrón’?” Alicia wanted to know.
“Or anywhere else in New Mexico,” Ruth suggested.
“OK, that’s it,” Alicia agreed. “Now let’s get some copies made up.”
“We’ll do that,” Charlie offered. If you’ll write it down, I’ll take it with me, type it, and send you a bunch of copies.”
Pretty soon, Alicia a few others had taken the petition around to every door in Cimarrón. Charlie called from Albuquerque to find out how it was going, and if she needed any help.
“Thanks Charlie, but it’s going great. We’ve got over seven hundred signatures, and there’s a photographer from the Santa Fe paper who’s going to come by and take a picture of us with all the names.”
“Wow! That’s really great, Alicia.”
“I’ll send you a copy of the paper when we get it.”
“Ruthie, did you hear that Bill Dufess is moving?”
“I’m not surprised.”
“And he said he wanted to live here, whether or not the dump went in.”
“Alicia, I think we ought to have a party, to celebrate.”
“Let’s do it tonight. I’ll supply Tequila.”
“And I’ll bring Tony and Eloy. You call Rita and Effie.”
Six months later, Alicia was elected Mayor.
Charlie got a letter from Joyce. She was in New Hampshire. She’d been arrested at a sit-in protesting the building of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant. Although she’d been well treated, she’d lost her baby when she’d gotten out of jail. She and Harry were going to get married. They’d decided to try for another child, and thought it best to get married first. Charlie and Rosa were invited, but they didn’t go. He stayed home because Rosa didn’t want to go. She couldn’t. She had a date, although Charlie didn’t know it yet.
© 1989 – 2010 rtmulcahy
Black Jack Ketchum, Clay Allison, Pat Garrett, Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, Jesse James, Kit Carson, and Zane Grey all either visited, worked, lived – or, in some cases, died – in Cimarrón.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on January 21, 2008
It’s easy to die in The Big Apple. Asphalt flows like taffy under the weight of gridlocked traffic. In winter, the black taffy hardens, ripples, and cracks. Gargantuan trucks and buses rumble along the scarred, warped surface. Taxis buzz around like hornets, cutting in and out of lanes, indifferent to all. A city bus in front of me belched a thick cloud of inky smoke, so I zipped out from behind it to pass. I heard the hiss of an air brake over my left shoulder. As I turned to look, the sun was eclipsed by the biggest trash truck I’d ever seen. It pulled up alongside me and pinned me against the bus. My ten-speed was trapped, wedged between tons of unyielding steel. Traffic was backed up, as usual, so I sat in the semidarkness waiting for something to happen. I didn’t get off — hell, that bike was my livelihood. Fortunately, when the light changed, the trash truck angled left, so I escaped. I was lucky that day. I rode those streets in the winter of 1976.
New York mornings are bitterly cold. Damp ocean winds blow across the island, picking up excess moisture from all the rivers and bays. It felt as though the cold seeped its way through my skin, past muscle, and into bone. I left for work early, one such grey, windy morning. A package in the large red pouch across my shoulders — a late pickup from the previous day — banged against my side. Steam seeped from manhole covers. My breath formed a cloud around my face. Ice formed on my mustache, and I felt the damp cold penetrating my beard.
Traffic was light. I raced along the streets, my feet spinning in smooth, even circles. Man, I felt great! I was sucking up oxygen, pumping it into my brain. My muscles were warming up. It was going to be a great day. Until. Until, without warning, the right side of my handlebars snapped off. I let go of it. With the brake and shifting cables still attached, it just hung there. I stared at it. Disbelief froze my brain. As I watched, the errant handlebar swung into the spokes of my tire. The bike jerked to a stop. I had time to think about how lucky I was to still be on the bike, but momentum caught up with me. I pitched over the handlebar, onto the street. It should have been painful, but I jumped right up — the street was far too cold for me to savor the moment right then — draped the handlebar over the center stem, and finished my delivery. Neither rain, nor hail, nor frozen street would stay this courier from his appointed rounds.
Of course, I didn’t work for the Post Office. I was a lot faster than that. As a bike messenger for Mobile Messenger Service, I delivered anything I could carry, from anywhere in Manhattan, to anywhere in Manhattan, the same day. For ten bucks extra, you got it in thirty minutes, guaranteed, a feat the Post Office couldn’t even touch. It was a popular service. I delivered letters and small packages to office buildings, including skyscrapers like the Empire State Building, and the World Trade Center. Dark-suited men and women swarm those lobbies, frantic and impatient. When an elevator opens, the swarm attacks. It’s a crowded ride, but the express elevators take you fifty floors without stopping! I don’t think those dark swarms enjoyed it, but I had a great time: Beam me up — the life forms are hostile!
Bicycles are indispensable to the advertising folks on Madison Avenue too. They needed their commercials run to and from developing labs all day. I met one of ’em, the director of the Mr. Whipple (“Please Don’t Squeeze the Charmin”) ads. I told him those were the worst commercials on TV, and his chin dropped. Hey, it’s for wiping shit off your ass. Who wants to hug it?
Running around like that, in and out of offices, studios, and film labs, you never knew who you might run into. The dispatcher sent me to an apartment building for a pickup. Guy name of Plimpton invited me in. He was still getting some papers together, stuffing ’em in an envelope. He told me he was a writer; said he wrote about sports. He’d actually played with professional teams: baseball, football, and hockey, just to write about it. What a life a writer has.
One afternoon, after I’d finished delivering a letter to an office in Rockefeller Center, I called the dispatcher to see if there was a job waiting. There was. I had to get to the Met (the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and pick up a package. Funny thing was, there was no deliver-to address. I would get instructions at the museum. I’d never been to the Met, so I enjoyed the experience. It’s a huge place — takes up several city blocks, cutting off a lot of streets. There were hundreds of people clogging the sidewalk; and hot-dog carts, pretzel wagons, and balloon vendors competed for their attention. I u-locked my bike to a pole and ran up one hell of a lot of steps.
Inside, I collected a brown-paper-wrapped painting, and squeezed it into my bag. The delivery address was on 5th avenue, alongside Central Park. Faan-cy. Bunny M. was sending a painting to one J. K. Onassis. Now this was exciting. How many of those could there be? Better yet, she had to sign for it! The building was old, wrinkled with elaborately chiseled cornices. The doorman looked just as old. He made a phone call before he’d let me in that marbled lobby. I was escorted to an elevator by a much younger, dark-haired dude in a starched white jacket. He looked like a cook. He got in, punched a button, and stood by the panel, staring into space. I stood by the door, eager for it to open. I felt like a cab at a traffic light, gunning my motor. We rode up a few floors, and it opened into a kitchen. My leg moved forward, but my foot didn’t touch down. I realized there was something across my chest, holding me back.
I turned my head. It was the guy in white. His arm felt like the steel bar of a subway turnstile when you forgot to put a coin in. I began to suspect he was neither a bellhop, nor a cook. His eyes were cold, with a steady glare. “I will take the package,” he said. His voice reinforced the threat in his eyes. “It has to be signed for,” I said, hopefully, and with as much authority as I could muster. “I will take care of it,” he insisted, in a tone that most people wouldn’t disobey, and “You stay here.” I wasn’t going to move from that spot.
He took my package, and my clipboard, and disappeared through a doorway on the right. I was disappointed, of course. I’d never meet the apartment’s famous occupant. I stuck my head out — there was no one around. I had let my excitement build up as the elevator crawled to this place. Now, I was reduced to standing in a little steel box. I saw through the kitchen doorway to a polished hardwood hall, hoping to see a figure there, hoping to see Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
I heard footsteps. They were too heavy for her. It was the chef/bellboy dude. But, behind him, she came. She looked heavier than I’d imagined, but it may have been the bulky sweater obscuring her figure. When she saw me, she stopped. “Oh!” she cried out. There was fear in her eyes. Perhaps it had always been there, ever since Dallas in ’63. She seemed to collect herself, and said, “I didn’t know he was right here.” “Sorry, ma’am. I shouldn’t have brought him up.” She smiled at me then, and the look of fear was obscured by the beauty of those eyes. “Thank you,” she said to me. “It’s my job, Ms. Onassis,” I said. “Nevertheless, I appreciate your promptness, and the care you took.” “You’re welcome,” I stammered, “You’re very welcome, of course, anyway.”
“Please come in,” she said.
I stepped off the elevator. The door didn’t close behind me. “I just made some coffee. It’s so cold today. Would you like some? Oh, that’s silly of me. You probably must go on with your deliveries?” “No ma’am. I, I didn’t know where I was going when I was sent to the museum, so I don’t have any other stops to make until I call in.”
“Well, then, sit,” she insisted, with a smile I couldn’t have refused. “You too, Alex,” she directed at her protector? It was a command, and I enjoyed the worried look on his face. I suppose Secret Service agents are like that. I’d decided that’s who he had to be. The way his arm shot across my chest; that look in his eyes — no, this was no servant.
Jackie set out a plate of brownies. I was nervous. I stuffed half a brownie in my mouth. This was the woman married to President Kennedy. This was the woman in the car with him when his head was blown apart. This was the woman who scooped up some of his brain, and carried it in her cupped hands to the doctor. This was also the same woman who’d married a Greek millionaire. He was dead now too. Jackie was one of the rich and famous, and she was sitting right there across a table from me, talking to me. I gulped at my coffee to wash the brownie down, and burned my tongue.
“I do appreciate the care you took with my delivery. Did you know it was a painting?” “Well, it sure looked like one, ma’am,” I blurted out, slurring the “looked” into something like booked. “You mean it traveled like one?” she asked. “Uh, I don’t, Oh! I see. Yes, well, no, I mean, it looked like it could be from the shape of the package.” “Yes, it was from my friend Bunny. She knows I like Egyptian art, and she found a wonderful painting for me.”
“I’m sure glad it was me who got to bring it to you really am glad to meet you,” I rushed out. Pause. Silence. I finished my coffee, and two more brownies. Jackie looked kind of embarrassed by the combination of hero worship and sweat oozing from me. I needed to say something, anything. “Do you collect art, Ms. Onassis?” “Well, yes. I suppose I do. Would you like to see some?” “Sure! I mean, yes! of course, thank you, yes, I would.”
I followed her to another room off of that hallway I’d seen through the kitchen, Mr. Secret Service somehow always between us. There were small Egyptian statues, and paintings, as I expected, but also shelves full of books, books about Egypt. Egypt? Books always impressed me, more than anything else. “I see you admire my books.” “Yes ma’am. Are they all about Egypt?” “Well, no, but I am fascinated by Egyptian literature, you know.” “No, I didn’t know that. I don’t really know what it is you do at all.”
“Are you a writer?”, she asked me. I laughed. “Um, no. Can’t say I am.” “Oh, OK,” she said, smiling, “I thought you might be a reporter or something.” “Oh, no. No ma’am”, I said. “I’m just a messenger.” “I suppose you think I take lazy cruises, sunning myself on exotic beaches, and living an easy life?” she asked. I imagined her in a bikini. I imagined her without a bikini. “Well, uh, the thought had crossed my mind,” I said. She laughed. Jackie had laughed at my little joke. I liked her. “Actually,” she said, still smiling, “I’m working right here in New York, just like you are. I work for a publishing house, Viking. Do you know it?” I didn’t know who published anything, so I had to say, “No.” “Well, no matter,” she replied, “It’s real work, something I’ve always wanted to get back to someday.”
It was hard to imagine her working. It was also hard to imagine leaving her. I wanted to spend the rest of the day just in her presence. I watched her lips moving. Her lips were temptingly moist. I felt warm. She was looking at me. I thought I saw a question in her stare. Suddenly I realized I’d lost track of what she was saying. “I do have work to get back to,” she said. “Me too,” I said, in a higher pitched voice than I expected. She slipped me a George, and thanked me again for being punctual and careful with her package. Alex took me back down on the elevator. I called in to Mobile Messenger from the lobby. “Where’ve you been, dude?” the dispatcher asked. “I’ll tell you when I get back — you won’t believe it,” I said. “Have you got anything for me?”
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on January 17, 2008
She thought she was totally cool. I found her irresistible. Her jet-black hair caught my attention, and hell, wild women always attract me. The red dress and the sensuous way she was poured into it riveted my attention on her. I introduced myself, sitting down on the empty stool to her left, and flexed the muscles under my tattoo. Roofing work gives me muscles and a nice tan. The booze was insidiously working its way to my brain. I said, “Did you see the sky turn scarlet at sunset?” The long slow pull she took of her whiskey put the diamond on her finger in front of my face, long enough for me to take notice. “That’s a good one,” she said with a wink, and the words poured out slowly, friendly, “Yeah, I suppose you can sit here.”
This could get ugly, I thought. That ring sent streaks of light flashing through my retinas and bouncing around my brain while she talked. She kept asking questions and watching my reactions. She bought me another pint of stout. I’d been thinking of leaving, just saying good-bye and walking away, but I couldn’t refuse. She asked me what I’d read lately, and I had to confess that all I’d read lately were the channel listings in TV Guide. I didn’t know if “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was even a book. She rattled off the titles of half a dozen books: Tuesdays With Morrie, Sex and the City, The Bone Collector, The Perfect Storm, Night Train, before I recognized Killing Floor. I don’t know why, but I didn’t even try to fake it; I admitted I had bought it, but hadn’t read it. When would I have had time to read?
She asked me what I thought about putting a road through the petroglyphs. Did I think the Forest Service should log 600-year-old Ponderosa Pines in New Mexico? Did I think the new Governor had deliberately exceeded his authority in signing the Indian Gaming Compact? This is the hardest bar room mating ritual I’ve ever run across. I asked her if she’d ever watched Babylon-5 on TV, and she didn’t know what that was. I tried to explain the show. “Oh,” she said, “I don’t care for science fiction; it’s too predictable.”
Frankie, the bartender and a damn good tattoo artist, put a bowl of pretzels in front of us, and Carmen excused herself to go pee. I grabbed a fistful of pretzels, and watched her walk away, totally absorbed in her walk. There was confidence in the way she carried herself. Now’s my chance to leave, I thought, popping pretzels in my mouth. That diamond ring on her finger mortified me. I thought about jealous husbands and tall boyfriends. I thought about fists and guns, and quietly slipping out of back doors. Did I really want to do this again? I gave it all too much thought, because she was already coming back. I heard her boots clicking on the wooden floor, and turned to see her adjusting her red cowgirl hat, angling it slightly over one eye. She had the other eye on me. Well, what the hell, I thought, I’m a weak man. I went fishing for compliments. I asked her if she liked my tattoo. “Yeah, I like it,” she said, “It reminds me of the one my husband has on his butt.” Well, there it was, the code word, husband, for “You’re barking up the wrong tree; don’t bother me,” but she certainly seemed available. I didn’t ask about the husband – perhaps I should have. If she wasn’t going to talk about him, then why should I? I wanted to keep my cool, pretend I didn’t care about husbands. The truth was, I didn’t really care about the whole institution of marriage; there was nothing sacred about it to me. I didn’t know anyone, including my parents, who was still married.
However, I did remember the tall blond guy in the pickup, demanding to know if I was fucking his wife. I remembered the trucker waiting outside the bowling alley to avenge his dishonor. And I thought about the others, the guys who never knew that their wives or girlfriends fooled around, and with more than just me.
The band played a nice high energy electric country. I two-stepped with Carmen. We drank. We danced through two sets, and I asked her if she’d like to come home with me. “No,” she said, and, “I have to go,” she said, but, “Would you like to come to a party tomorrow night?” she said, finally. I told her I did, so she wrote down the party address on the back of a deposit slip from her checkbook. I stashed that paper with two addresses in my wallet, stuck it in between two twenties I knew I wouldn’t need until the next day, and walked her to her car. “Nice car!”, I said. It was a little green MG, low to the ground, dual carburetors, bucket seats. I was impressed. I kissed her before she got in. She wrapped her arms around me, and sucked my lip into her mouth. After just a few minutes of stuff like that, she poured herself into the seat. “I’ll see you tomorrow night,” she said, and the engine roared. She winked at me, and peeled out of the lot.
The party was rolling by the time I got there. I was late since I’d been at the bar all afternoon. The front door was open and I strolled in. Carmen saw me right away; she must have been watching the door. “Beer’s in the fridge,” she yelled at me, from the other side of the room. I didn’t know who her husband was, or where he was, so I just waved at her, and grabbed a Mickey’s wide-mouth off the shelf from behind the Jack Daniels. Hmm, cold Jack Daniels, I wonder whose that is? I didn’t have to wonder long, because Carmen was there before I could close the door. She grabbed that bottle and took a god-awful-long swig, and then sloshed some into a glass. She never said a word to me, just planted her lips, sticky with Jack Daniels, on mine. She tickled the base of my tongue and I forgot to breathe. My lips throbbed with waves of pleasure. My mind took a vacation. She squeezed her left arm under my right, and steered me somewhere. She pulled me into a room along the hallway from the kitchen, and closed the door. She snapped my buckle open, and yanked on my pants. I pulled away from her a moment to unbutton my shirt, and her dress was off – fell off of her like it was made to do that. Well, I won’t bore you with the details, but when it was over, I was higher than a Carlsbad bat at sundown. It was hard to get dressed after that, what with all the kissing each others lips and other parts, but we finally managed it, and as we kissed again, there was a knock on the door. Carmen turned the light out.
Man, oh, man, that wasn’t a good idea, I was thinking. “Carmen, are you in there?” I heard a man ask. Carmen didn’t say anything. “He knows you’re in here,” I said. She turned the light back on, and the door opened. Sure enough, it was another tall one, blond, Aryan looking, at least six-foot-three. At five-eight, I’m impressed by that. He looked at Carmen, looked at me, spun on his left heel, and walked away. Carmen went after him. I went back to the party.
I danced a snappy Reggae tune with a pretty woman whose boyfriend glowered at me the whole time, then headed back to the kitchen, looking for something to eat. I found Carmen there. “We’re leaving,” she said. “Are you going to be alright?” I asked, feeling guilty, but admiring the way her clothes caressed her body. “Oh, it’ll be OK,” she said, “We have to go home and talk,” and she hurried out of the kitchen. I found a half-eaten green-chile-chicken enchilada casserole in the fridge, and wolfed the rest of that down like I hadn’t eaten in days. Actually, I probably hadn’t. The next night, I went back to the bar. Frankie poured me a Guinness as soon as he saw me. “Well, what happened partner?” he asked, “You left all of a sudden last night. Did you shack up with that pretty little filly you were with?” “Yeah, I did,” I said. “Well, how’s come you’re here now? You can’t be tired of her already?” he asked, winking, as he wiped the bar around my glass. So I told him the whole story, and he asked what I was going to do now.
“You know, Frankie, I think I’m going to have you ink some clothes onto that Elvis tattoo.”
© 1997, 2010
Posted in cowgirl, fiction, humor, Life, madness, marriage, relationships, sex, Writing | Tagged: Babylon-5, boots, Carmen, cowgirl, diamond, funny, green chile, marriage, MG, Mickey's, raggae, red, scarlet, sunset, turquoise | Leave a Comment »